Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why it's called Faith In Community, part I

Image from the St. John's Bible

First of all, it was the first thing to come to my mind, as my fingers were poised at the computer screen, and Blogger was demanding a title. I'm not sure exactly why that title came to me at that time: perhaps because "community" has been on my brain lately. In our ecumenical social justice group, we have identified the core values of Community, Hope and Shared Abundance as the foundation from which we act for justice. We believe that our society has fostered a sense of fear rather than hope, scarcity rather than abundance and isolation rather than community. So I decided to called my blog "faith in community."

But that doesn't mean I have faith in community. I have faith in God. I believe that faith is meant to be practiced in community -- whether that community be few or many, formal or casual.

Lately, I picked up a new copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's little classic Life Together, a book I always feel that I ought to know better than I do. I felt that especially when I spied the subtitle on this volume: The Classic Exploration of Faith In Community. As I read, I was especially taken with these words:

"Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man (and I would add sister!) as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother's is sure. Ad that also clarifies te goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation." (p. 23)

Of course this sentiment is not new. Martin Luther said as much long ago in the Smalcald Articles, when he wrote:

"We shall now return to the Gospel, which offers counsel and help against sin in more than one way, for God is surpassingly rich in his grace: First, through the spoken word, by which the forgiveness of sin (the peculiar function of the Gospel) is preached to the world world; second, through Baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar, fourth, through the power of the keys; and finally, through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren. Matt. 18:20 "Where two or three are gathered."

Faith -- born, deepened and practiced, in community, as we hear and speak the gospel to one another.

The Bible as well is a community book. It is a book about the generations of the saints, who have spoken to one another and to us about the acts of God for them and in them and with them. Reading the Scriptures together is like opening up an old family album and wondering about each clear or fuzzy black-and-white picture, noticing the resemblance. As we ponder and meditate, we gain a deeper understand of who we are, where we came from, where we might be bound for.

My grandparents emigrated from Sweden as young adults. My father's siblings all visited Sweden once but not my dad: he was the youngest. A number of years ago, he got a letter from Sweden, inviting him to come over and claim a small inheritance -- in person. So began an adventure for my mostly non-traveling parents. They grabbed the opportunity, made reservations, and set out to find all of the relatives they had never met. Old cousin Julius, who played the saw. Cousin George, who was born in the United States, but moved back to Sweden as a young boy. And Cousin Mae Britt.

When they were looking for Cousin Mae's house, they wondered how they would know the right place. She lived in an apartment in a certain small town. As they searched the numbers, they knew right away: Cousin Mae had posted one of my father's baby pictures on her door. My parents discovered then that my grandmother had faithfully sent back pictures to the family in Sweden, keeping everyone connected across the ocean.

Across the oceans, across the generations, across cultures, but also face to face in families, in churches, as neighbors -- we testify to one another of God's goodness and grace, God's mercy when we are weak, God's vision for our future.

That's why it's called Faith in Community.

(part II coming soon)


Anonymous said...

in response to your post on revgals - heard a fun take on the wrestling: "jacob was born addicted to blessings" - and then the preacher went on to talk about all of the blessings that Jacob took or wrestled away from others -

Diane said...

funny I was just thinking about Jacob and blessings! (first he takes one from Esau and then from God/the angel)

LawAndGospel said...

I really enjoyed reading about the genesis of the name of your blog, and also the wonderful family insight. On so many levels this was a wonderful post and glimpse into the stories of lives. Thanks!

"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said...

Thanks for Part I. I like the image of the Bible as looking through a family photograph album...and remembering our stories and connections.

MayB MayB Not said...

Amen to what L & G and ps said! Thanks for another beautiiful post. Serena

Pastor David said...

I think you have hit upon one of those easily forgotten truths with your blog title - faith is something that is inherently communal. We like to think of faith as an "individual matter", but it simply can't be.

FranIAm said...

This is such a wonderful post. I love the image of your parents (not that I know what they look like!) visiting a small town in Sweden and finding your dad's baby picture on the door. Brilliant.

I think you read my post at my other blog about how we are saved in community. Community is essential to life and to salvation I believe.

Just beautiful and then the great image from the St. John Bible.

Thank you.

David said...

This is also a great reflection on Bonhoeffer and why Christians ought to read this little book.

These days so many people make comments that their faith is personal and that they don't need to go to church to be a Christian. Truth be told, faith is communal.

Your post explains that better than several missional books I've read.

Grandmère Mimi said...

We do need each other, rough edges and all.

Fran, it's a beautiful post on faith, and community, and Bonhoeffer. I don't think I could be Christian alone. When my hope flags and discouragement seems to overwhelm me, I need others to help me along. I hope I do the same for my brothers and sisters.

Grandmère Mimi said...

P.S. The illustration from the St. John's Bible is still lovely.

Diane said...

Mimi, it's an illustration from Acts, chapter 4, "Life in Community."

Gartenfische said...

This is beautiful. (And Fran was right about you, too!--lovely blog!)

Sista Cala said...

Thanks for sharing this post. It would make for a great play for a meme or Friday 5.

Gannet Girl said...

This is a wonderful post, and so apropos to where I spent my interior morning. I am taking both your quotes off to a meeting with someome at the end of the week. Thank you!